|Rd.8 Telstra Rally Australia|
Production Car World Rally Championship Rd.8
11 to 13 November 2005
Toshi Arai Crowned Production Car World Rally Champion
Japanese ace takes three stage wins on final day to increase already large margin
13 November 2005
Crews tackled six competitive stages this morning, split into two loops of three stages each. Starting with the Atkins 1 test (4.42kms) after leaving parc ferme at 06:30hrs, Mark Higgins set the pace early on; with Toshi slotting in second ahead of Marcos Ligato.
Arai took his first stage win of the day on the next test, SS22. The Helena North 1 stage is the longest of the rally at 29.93 kms, and was the scene of major drama for Aki Teiskonen; the Finn ending his Aussie assault after barrel-rolling off the road on one of the very fast sections of the stage. Fortunately both Aki and sibling co-driver Miika were unhurt; though it was instantly the end of their rally.This promoted Mark Higgins back up to second, with Argentinean driver Gabriele Pozzo moving into the final podium position.
The following stage, Helena South 1, saw Mark Higgins quickest - with Arai just 2.2 seconds in arrears over the 17.30kms. The order at the top of the timesheets hadn't changed, and as the crews headed for the mid-morning Service, it was
The fourth test of the day (the second pass of the Atkins stage) was all Ligato's; the championship protagonist showing he's got the pace even when running well down the order and out of a points-paying position. Since his return under Superally yesterday morning after an unfortunate incident on Leg one, the Argentinean scored four test victories. He inherited one position after Aki Teiskonen went out on SS22, running ninth to the end of the event.
Showing total commitment while under immense pressure to finish at the top, Arai was fastest through the final two stages of the event - and indeed, the season - on his way to that hitherto elusive Production Car crown. SS25 was the second run over the longest test of the event (Helena North), and Arai came through some 14 seconds quicker than Higgins in second. He would increase the gap to the Briton by another four seconds on the final stage, ending the event 1:45.6 in front of Higgins, with Pozzo another 41 seconds back in third.
Meanwhile, Qatari driver Nasser Al Attiyah, in a carefully and measured drive, secured a well-deserved second place in the final championship standings with fifth place on the event. It's a very strong platform from which to launch his 2006 campaign in the championship, and a superb result for only his second season in the PCWRC.
2005 Production Car World Rally Champion Toshi Arai:
2005 Production Car World Rally Champion Co-driver Tony Sircombe:
"It's been a long time coming. We've been in the PCWRC for four years and have come so close on a couple of occasions, so this victory is really worthwhile. I'm looking forward to coming back next year to defend the title. "
STI Group N Project General Manager George Donaldson: "It's an incredible end to a wonderful season for STI. Although we haven't always dominated in terms of performance, our teams have been the most professional that the PCWRC has ever had in its existence. We've got teams here focused on winning the championship, with drivers capable of consistently setting top-end performances. Even if they were put in a World Rally car, these guys we know are the measure of everyone in the world.
"Toshi has looked absolutely like the best driver all year. However, we are all only too well aware that the best driver doesn't always win. He has also proven to be super reliable. Really, for me the clinching moment of the championship was Turkey. Toshi absolutely pulled a flanker on the last day, taking all the chances on that last afternoon, and scoring big time with a wonderful result. On that very drama-filed rally, it was a fantastic victory.
"On this event, Toshi chose to drive at close to his normal pace, taking the win in the process. He came back to the Service Park to scenes of jubilation, and was met and greeted by Mr Katsurada (head of STI), Mr Shibano, and his wife and family. There were many people from the PCWRC coming over to congratulate him on such an incredible achievement. The target for STI was to get a Japanese world champion, and this has been achieved.
"Mark Higgins has set the pace all year, though by his own admission, he's never demonstrated the consistency of pace that Toshi's shown. He's desperate to give his team, TopRun, whom he has great affection for, a category win here - but of course the puncture yesterday robbed them of any chance of that. All the same, Mark has done an incredible job, demonstrating that the TopRun car has the measure of everyone in the series. They came here with just one car, and Mark has shown how good it is with his solid run to second place even after that earlier delay.
"Gabriele Pozzo is absolutely a top, top driver. He really started to show his pedigree on this event - one of the toughest of the year and the guy has demonstrated the pace from the outset. It is great to see the Barattero car getting the result that they've worked very hard for - and I think they deserved. After losing over a minute with a puncture on the first day, Gabriele then played with different tyre settings to come back into a strong third place - without a doubt a super achievement.
"Fabio Frisiero, though not in a SUBARU for this event, has had a very, very interesting year - with a great start in Sweden and then some tough times. Unfortunately he couldn't get a SUBARU for this event. We're hoping to have him back again next year in some capacity, running a SUBARU in the PCWRC.
"Natalie Barratt switched to a SUBARU from the RAC Rally, and immediately showed a very big increase in pace. She had an unfortunate start to this event, doing some suspension damage on pretty well the first stage; but came back and throroughly enjoyed the rest of the rally. She is really getting very serious with her programme, having also brought on new co-driver Kaj Lindstrom.
"Marcos Ligato and Sebastian Beltran also showed extremely good pace in the superbly well-prepared Barattero cars. Along with Gabriele Pozzo, the team made a huge contribution to the championship with their three Argentinean entrants, keeping the other competitors honest with their consistency and pace throughout the year. Ligato made up for his bitterly disappointing incident on Leg one with a storming drive over the following two day's stages. Even though there was only a very slim chance of his making it into the points, he kept the hammer down, never giving an inch and driving professionally right to the end.
"Finally, it was unfortunate that Italian driver Angelo Medeghini was too ill to travel to this event. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to welcome him to the championship again next season."
The 2006 PCWRC season kicks off with the blue-riband Rallye Monte Carlo in January, the beginning of another eight-round season sure to be every bit as exciting as this one has been.